Expectations are a dangerous thing – especially if you don’t communicate to other people what they are. Obviously this is true in romantic relationships – we’ve all seen (or maybe been in) the scenario where one partner has an expectation they fail to express and then they are mad and confused when the other partner fails to meet that expectation. Or worse – the expectations become so high that over time one partner expects the other partner to fulfill every need they have. (For many reasons this second scenario has disastrous results as it’s unrealistic to expect one human can meet every changing and dynamic needs of another – no matter how pure and genuine the love – it’s just not realistic.)
Just like it’s not realistic to think one company can meet every one of a person’s professional expectations. Working for a company is a lot like being in a romantic relationship. First you have to define what you want in the partner (company) and then date, (interview) to see if there is a match. When a match is found the courting, (working) begins and all is great –you meet the family (team) experience the honeymoon phase that leads to marriage (promotion).
One partner (company) is usually really clear on communicating expectations and giving feedback on if they are being met (review and compensation). The other partner (employee) is really good at being reactive (high performing) and attentive (dedicated) to the expressed needs.
All is great – one partner (company) is having their needs meet and the other (employee) is being rewarded for their behavior. This is great if the attentive partner (employee) is communicating their expectations (career path, training, promotion timeline) and a healthy relationship dialog is occurring.
However from what I’ve seen in the corporate world most times this looks like toxic relationship and at some point the attentive partner (employee) realizes that they have their own needs and because they were trying to impress the other partner (company) they forgot to communicate their expectations as the relationship grew and evolved and their expectations are no longer being met. And maybe by then the expectations were so huge that there was no way the partner (company) could ever fulfill them because the other (employee) wanted all their previously un-communicated expectations fulfilled whether it was rational or not for the other (company) to fulfill.
Be clear on the expectations you have for your company to meet, ask yourself if they are realistic and if you have clearly stated what they are – if not take the chance – you might be surprised what might happen if you are clear about what you want.
I’ve started this entry about 10 times now. I want to say so many things and at the same time I’m so over talking, writing and thinking about balance as it applies to my silly little drama. I need a balance break.
I see people at work way more senior then I spread so thin I wonder who’d they be without work. I see how they only fill their lives with work – all night, every weekend, all the time. I see how they look down on those with children as under achievers, and make snide comments when a parent makes a balance choice. I hear the rude remarks and it’s disgusting.
I see a friend with 3 young children face cancer for the second time and struggle with the need to hang on to his benefits to afford treatment knowing work takes precious time away from his family. I see self employed friends and family fight just as hard to build a business and make time for each other as any corporate working stiff.
And I see myself letting go, giving in to the notion my experiment with my company has already failed. I’ve given up on the hope that I can be in balance and work for a company that is out of balance. I just don’t like the way it feels so it doesn’t matter if it’s possible or not. It’s like being a vegetation chef in a steak house kitchen – why would anyone do that? And any curiosity around if it could work for the sake a good essay or two – is long gone.
I pulled the trigger a few weeks ago and now the gun is going off – I’m starting a consulting business and I want to keep this dialog going. My intent is to tell other people’s stories here – not the doom gloom of too many hours and e-mail overload but the positive solutions and ideas from people who are making it work. Because it can work it – you just have to want it to.
I thought the journey to finding balance was going to be much easier once I had accepted accountability for my own actions. I thought that having the awareness mixed with setting boundaries and saying no was going to be the hardest part of the journey. I was naïve to think it was that simple.
Now that I see the world in a different way – I can’t unsee it and go back to the way it was before. It’s like when you are looking to buy a new car, you become aware of all the cars like that one on the road when before you hadn’t noticed how many (enter car name here) were driving around.
Now that I’ve tasted the succulent flavors of balance – I’ve become almost allergic to the smell of mania and bitter bite of craziness around me at the office. It’s making me physically anxious like I’ve eaten a bowl of candy and chased it with a pot of coffee.
It’s more than that – I’ve become even more aware of the balance struggle among my friends and family – and I realized I live in a half world mixed with those who inspire me to move forward on this journey and those who’d like me to just shut up and stop talking about it because they are still in that denial, self preservation mode making my ramblings a threat.
Which extends the thought of balance past the work environment to the home environment – and how the interpersonal workings of a family and friend network can be just as disruptive to ones sense of balance as a toxic work environment can be. And moving forward from that type of balance disturbance can be even trickier than changing jobs or saying no to a boss because you are dealing with deep emotions, obligations and years of history.
For many – being out of balance is all they know and even the idea of being in balance – causes panic. Change is hard – especially when it’s for the better – because there is no “better” comparison to mirror – no understanding of what a positive change will feel like. And that creates fear – and fear creates indecision and tolerance of toxic situations – weather it be at home or work. It’s the whole devil you know thinking.
In the end it always goes back accountability for yourself. Ask yourself – do you want to live with the devil you know or are you ready for the pitch fork to be removed from your ass?
Not much time today to write – another day of back to back meetings and over 130 mails in my in box. I felt so passionately about a comment a wise woman posted a couple of days ago that I wanted to surface it so everyone can benefit.
“So many people spend the first half of their life earning all their wealth, losing half their health, then the last half of their life spending all their wealth gaining back their health (often never getting it back). Don’t lose it in the first place.”
No need to say more.
Is apprising to achieve work life balance the same thing as aspiring to have a balanced life? That is the question that came up this weekend while I was in Vegas. The answer to this question is ground zero on the topic. I think that work life balance and living a balanced life are two different thing – albeit related concepts that go hand and glove, they are different realities – different mental states of being.
Like addition or loss I see steps here. First there is awareness that things are not working they way they are, the recognition the dam is going to break. The easy default is to examine work – because there is an obvious villain to blame – and it takes up so much of our time it makes sense to start there. Then amendments are made – a week or two is taken for vacation, a sick day – finger in the dike solutions.
Next phase is personal accountability – the vacation was nice – but now setting boundaries and say no is needed – and the relationship with work begins to change. Then a peaceful state of accomplishment – for a short while – a little balance honeymoon if you will – until you feel the leaks – the water slowing dripping in – you realize you are still not living the life you want. Somehow you still don’t have time for the kids, your spouse, education, family, hobbies – whatever it is you wanted to do to feel more in balance.
The last stage, the dam breaks – and water gushes everywhere – it’s not work that needs to be in balance or your relationship with the company you work at that needs to be examined – it’s you that needs to balanced and your relationship with all parts of yourself that need attention. There is no villain here to blame – no bad company or mean manager – just you in a kayak with some hard choices to make to get to your peaceful island of balance.
For some these choices are quitting a job, moving to smaller community, giving up income to become a full time mother/father, opening a small business, pursuing a passion – they all require a fundamental life shift that go way beyond the notion of putting work in balance.
Which brings me back to the question at hand – I believe that in order to have deep sustaining work life balance – one must first be on the road to inner balance or they will paddle around in circles.
Since I started posting I’ve been receiving many e-mails from people who can relate to long hours and feeling drained. Just last night I was talking with friends over dinner and one of them had worked 10 days in a row about 10 hours a day on the 11th day – burnt out and stayed in bed. Another friend talked about leaving home at 5;30am to avoid commuter traffic and staying at work until 6 or 7pm. That’s a long week that doesn’t allow much time for anything other than work.
These friends are not alone – I know at least 10 people, who keep similar schedules and I’m sure you know just as many too. How many of you have family members, friends or loved ones who constantly miss events because of work or are “too tired” to do anything on weekends? It doesn’t matter where people work – I think it’s the same feeling if you are bagging groceries, own a business or are playing corporate games.
What last night’s conversation made me think about is that work life balance isn’t just about the individual it’s also extends to family, friends and community. The impact rolls through society – “I had to work”, has become such a common and acceptable excuse for missing life events – most people don’t think twice about what this means.
My guess is we as a society and individuals are in denial about how impactful this dis-balance has become. This denial – is preservation in many ways. The self denial at least for me was what keep me moving forward everyday – the family denial is what keeps arguments from happening and a false sense of harmony in the home – the community denial is what keeps psychologists in business.
And once you stop the denial – in some ways you become a threat to those around you. Those who are steeped in the cycle don’t want to be challenged. When I started leaving work at by 5:30pm there wasn’t a huge amount of support from anyone. A few people even asked if I was sure that was “ok” to do. When I stated challenging my friends for working on weekends – their responses were chilly and worst yet when friends blew me off for dinners and coffee – I called them out on it. Just like many of my “out-of-denial” friends has done to me months before.
When I was deep in the zone I had 2 friends who actually put me on “probation” because I had missed so many engagements with them. And for what? To sit at my desk alone and write a document that no one really cared about for a product that wasn’t going to save the world, anyone’s life or do anything that special. What in the world was I thinking when I made the choice those documents were more important than, friends, family and myself?
Preservation is what I was thinking.
Because balance is so subjective – I want to be clear what I mean by balance and set a common understanding that most who read this blog can identify with. Simply put work life balance is not having to choose one at the expense of the other. To me it means operating in a place where it’s not one or the other – but a blending of the two supporting each other.
For me that means making it to family events on time, every time, with no lame, “sorry I had to work” excuses. It also means having clear start and stop times for work, working smarter not harder while at work, not being exhausted by the time the weekend comes so I have energy left to engage with friends and family. Most importantly it’s not feeling like my career will take a hit if I attend to my health needs or the health needs of those I love – doctor appointments, gym time, sick days and so on.
I might have just tanked my career this week because I’m naïve enough to think that I might be the one in my group of over 1,200 to make a difference. I took a stand and said the meetings were too much, the workload too much and the expectations on my role too unrealistic. Deep down I was prepared to leave my salary, my benefits and walk out the door to become a consultant in an effort to gain balance in my life. It’s just that important to me.
The counter offer at first was to go part time – which made me realize my manager was completely missing the point or wanting making it an easy solution for the team. This isn’t about working less – it’s about changing my relationship with the company to one of mutual respect for each other’s time and value. The next suggestion was take time off – and come back refreshed – again not the point – I don’t need time off – I need clear work goals, less politics and time to do my work. The final offer was we conduct an “experiment” and I work remotely 3 days a week – but we don’t tell anyone.
What the hell? I have nothing to lose. So back to the million dollar question – can I with awareness for my accountability in work life balance riddle – live a balanced life if my company is out of balance regardless of the physical time I spend in the office? The meeting requests won’t stop, nor will the late night and weekend e-mails or endless scope change.
You might be thinking just leave already find a different job, become a consultant or whatever and get over it. Maybe you are right – it’s the type A entrepreneur overachiever in me that wants to see what will happen if I push the comfort zone in this relationship. You could say at this point I’m just poking the bear. Maybe I am.